Cambodia has chosen In the Life of Music — a drama that follows the fortunes of a family across three generations — as its entry for the best international feature film category at the 2020 Oscars.
Co-directed by Caylee So and Sok Visal, the narrative plays out across three time periods — beginning in 1968, then picking up the thread in 1976, soon after the brutal Khmer Rouge regime took hold of Cambodia, and, finally, turning attention to 2007.
The film stars Sreynan Chea, Vandarith Phem, Ellen Wong and Arn-Chorn Pond and binds its characters together through their love of a popular love song, Champa Battambang, by Sinn Sisamouth. He was one of the country’s most popular and prolific singers during what is considered Cambodia’s golden age of pop music from the 1950s until the 1970s. The song is still wildly popular across the nation today.
“Music has always played an important role in Cambodian society. People talk about music being the soul of our people. As a film and music producer, I think this film is deeply descriptive of the soul and spirit of the Cambodian people, as well as what we have been through in the past 40 years,” co-director Sok Visal told the Phnom Penh Post.
Cambodia’s film industry was all but destroyed during the reign of the communist Khmer Rouge from 1975 and 1979, which devastated the country and led to the death of millions.
It has reemerged in recent years with the Rithy Panh-directed The Missing Picture — set around the filmmaker’s own escape from the Khmer Rouge — being nominated for the best foreign-language film at the Academy Awards in 2013. The country has never won the award.
The 92nd Academy Awards will be held Feb. 9, 2020.